Today’s parable comes from Luke’s Gospel: Luke 15:11–32. I’m pretty sure that you have either read this parable, studied it in a Bible study or heard it preached on Sunday morning.
Typically, the focus falls on the younger son, the one who demanded his inheritance and then squandered it…finally returning home. A homecoming after a home-leaving. There is disrespect and offensive behavior by the younger son, yet, there is great joy in his return and it overshadows, even hides, the grief of his leaving. Except, on the part of the older brother.
Ahh yes, the older son who on the outside seems faultless right? He was hardworking, law-abiding…obedient. The model son on the outside. But, when faced with the joy of his father toward his younger brother, what is on the inside flows to the surface like lava in a volcano: self-righteousness, jealousy, selfishness. This brother does not share in the joy of return. Sermons on the older brother are far and few between. Jesus was pointing to the Pharisees and teachers of the law who were self-righteous and angry when sinners were welcomed by Jesus. After all, the Pharisees, were law-abiding and obedient…devoted followers of God. As one seminary professor said – the older son is rarely preached because it brings a spotlight on the Church today.
It is so very easy to find ourselves in the shoes of both of these sons is it not? My focus today, however is not these 2 sons, but the father. A father who offers a special love. As Henri Nouwen writes in The Return of the Prodigal Son, “This is the God I want to believe in, a Father who, from the beginning of creation has stretched out his arms in merciful blessing, never forcing himself on anyone, but always waiting, never letting his arms drop in despair but always hoping his children will return so that he can speak words of love to them and let his tired arms rest on their shoulders.”
Look at the painting below by Rembrandt…the focal point is the hands of the father.
Devotional Thought: It is easy to find ourselves as either of the 2 sons is it not? The real challenge I believe Jesus presented in this parable is this…are you interested in becoming like the Father?” After all, isn’t this what is meant when we hear the words of creation, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)
Rembrandt’s, “The Return of the Prodigal Son” – the painting is the focus of a book, The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen – if you get the chance to read it, you won’t be disappointed…